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Ultima Thule

Ultima Thule

Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 72
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  • Book Info
    Ultima Thule
    Book Description:

    This year's winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition is Davis McCombs'sUltima Thule,which was acclaimed as "a book of exploration, of searching regard.... a grave, attentive holding of a light" by the contest judge, the distinguished poet W. S. Merwin. The poems are set above and below the Cave Country of south central Kentucky, where McCombs lives and which is home to thousands of caves. The book is framed by two sonnet sequences, the first about a slave guide and explorer at Mammoth Cave in the mid-1800s and the second about McCombs's experiences as a guide and park ranger there in the 1990s. Other poems deal with Mammoth Cave's four- thousand-year human history and the thrills of crawling into tight, rarely visited passageways to see what lies beyond. Often the poems search for oblique angles into personal experience, and the caves and the landscape they create form a personal geology.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13005-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    W. S. Merwin

    In the past few years a number of gifted young poets have presented collections of poems related to some single theme or subject or image. This is not without precedent: it is easy to think of forerunners, from the Greek pastoral poets, to Petrarch, to the Spoon River Anthology. Why there should be this recurrence now is something we can only guess at. It may have to do with an urge for a different scope from that of short poems standing by themselves; for the broad canvas of narrative, without linear continuity.

    One thing that happens when poems cluster in...

    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. 3-22)

    Childhood was a mapless country, a rough

    terrain of sinks and outcrops. Not once

    did I suspect the earth was hollow, lost

    as I was among the fields and shanties.

    I remember the wind and how the sounds

    it carried were my name, meant me, Stephen . . .

    called out over the cornfield where I hid.

    There was no sound when candlesmoke

    met limestone—just this: seven characters

    I learned to write with a taper on a stick.

    What have they to do with that boy in the weeds?

    Am I the letters or the hand that made them?...

    (pp. 25-40)

    The night we lost thirteen of them,

    tremors shook along New Madrid fault.

    In field after field the moon rose

    to its own face echoed back,

    cattle circling a crater’s rim.

    Along these margins, life had fixed—

    an algal bloom, its underwater thud.

    They were sucked through vast caverns.

    In the Caveland, every pond’s a fluke.

    Let them be brief, then, as the land

    gives up the ghost of fog, morning

    in the sway-backed enclaves.

    Already the clay dries and separates

    along small faults. We expect no return.

    Not even a tadpole’s kink in mud

    where Jesus bugs made miracles...

    (pp. 43-52)

    It started with the clang of plates and girders,

    one last click of the rusted turnstile,

    and then a river of breath had come loose

    into the night. The workmen claim it took

    the hats from their heads, blew out their lights,

    and for a moment they had stood in darkness,

    listening to the cave’s unearthly moan.

    It was a sound not heard in over fifty years

    that rippled out into the undergrowth,

    whistled across the limestone lintel, and rose—

    a rustling, vast and unfamiliar to the bats

    beneath the streetlamps and underpasses,

    who gathered it in their ears and...